Women's Organizations During and After War: From Service Delivery to Policy Advocacy


McNulty, Susan. 1998. Women's Organizations During and After War: From Service Delivery to Policy Advocacy. Washington, DC: Center for Development Information and Evaluation, US Agency for International Aid.

Author: Susan McNulty


The recent increase in the number of conflicts and their changing nature has led more women to suffer from and participate in war. Women take up arms to combat oppressive regimes, suffer from rape used as a weapon of war, and adopt new responsibilities due to the absence of men in their homes and communities. Many women form organizations to address their needs, thereby revitalizing civil society. USAID, in an effort to promote post-war reconstruction through service delivery, a politically active civil society, and sustainable democratic reforms, frequently works with women’s organizations that seek to empower and serve those citizens who are among the most vulnerable.

Support for women’s organizations during and after war is derived from two USAID strategic goals: humanitarian assistance and democracy and governance. Support for women’s organizations also relates to USAID’s policy of promoting women in development (WID). According to a 1984 USAID WID policy paper, USAID affirms that “gender roles constitute a key variable in the socio-economic condition of any country and can be decisive in the success or failure of development plans” (Internet WID Policy Paper 1984, 1).

This paper provides background information for a USAID evaluation series assessing the role of women in post-conflict situations. Two central research questions drive this paper. First, what role do women’s organizations play in war-torn societies? Second, how does support for women’s organizations during and after war contribute to USAID’s goals? While more research is needed in order to answer both questions, academic and donor literatures provide some preliminary observations and conclusions.

The paper is organized as follows: 1) a discussion of recent trends of war; 2) a conceptual framework drawn from findings in developing countries and war-torn societies; 3) examples of organizational efforts to address women’s needs during and after conflict; and 4) a discussion of how support for women’s organizations fits into USAID’s Strategic Framework. A bibliography and an annex of terms that are frequently used in this paper follow the conclusion.


  • Four groups of war-affected women most vulnerable during post-conflict discussions: refugees, internally displaced persons, female heads of households, and ex-combatants. The role of women’s organizations in developing countries: self-help or service provision, empowerment, democratization.

  • Women’s organizations serve several functions in democratization processes: strengthening grassroots organizational capacity and the democratic culture at the microlevel during war or after the war, instigating a transition to peaceful democracy, providing a means of collective action to advocate for women’s rights during and after war, increasing women’s participation in political process.

  • However, women’s organizations face a number of challenges in conflictive societies...women have little time for political activism due to their double and triple duties; women suffer from the lack of financial and political experiences; premier democratic institutions are predominately male dominated; women’s organizations tend to seek distance from the state thereby limiting their involvement; and differences among women make it hard to set a broad agenda.

  • Women’s involvement in peace efforts tends to be located at the grassroots. Women’s peace activism does not always translate into involvement in peace negotiations or women’s formal inclusion in the transition process.


Topics: Civil Society, Combatants, Female Combatants, Development, Displacement & Migration, Economies, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, International Organizations, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights

Year: 1998

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